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‘Exam system needs an overhaul’ Cambridgeshire teachers warn

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The exams fiasco is just the tip of the iceberg – England’s exam system is “toxic” and the education of its children is in dire need of an overhaul.

Union members delivered this message at a rally in Cambridge, protesting the government’s handling of the grades fiasco .

Cllr Cheney Payne at the Cambridgeshire NEU rally. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cllr Cheney Payne at the Cambridgeshire NEU rally. Picture: Keith Heppell

The protest on August 21 was led by Cambridgeshire members of the National Education Union (NEU) and was supported by Cambridge Students’ Union outside Great St Mary’s Church and Senate House.

About 30 people gathered to listen to five different speakers – Stephen Drew, from Impington Village College, Mark Slade, of Sawston Village College, Cllr Cheney Payne, Cllr Jocelynne Scutt and Niamh Sweeney, of Long Road Sixth Form College, who is the Eastern region executive member of the NEU.

Niamh said the rally was part frustration at the fiasco of what has happened this year, but a call for bigger changes for 2021 .

Councillor Jocelynne Scutt at the rally. Picture: Keith Heppell
Councillor Jocelynne Scutt at the rally. Picture: Keith Heppell

“We just can’t do nothing and hope for the best and think that next year’s exams will run smoothly,” she said.

“So we’re calling for the Department for Education – both Nick Gibb and Gavin Williamson – to talk to us about developing a robust system that ensures that the 2021 grades for GCSEs, A-levels and other qualifications are valid and secure.

“We’ve got an exam system that is the legacy of Michael Gove’s education reform, which means that the majority of our children are on a two-year course where they are not assessed until the end. We believe that there are much better ways of continuous assessment on progress that teachers can carry out and can be moderated to ensure that if there is a lockdown, that next year’s young people won’t be affected in the same way as this year’s.”

The NEU rally in Cambridge, by the Senate House. Picture: Keith Heppell
The NEU rally in Cambridge, by the Senate House. Picture: Keith Heppell

Niamh believes the exam results situation, where initial algorithm-generated results were replaced by teacher-predicted grades, couldn’t have been handled any worse, adding: “Many students who didn’t get their first or second choices of university or at college are still waiting to find out what they can progress to.

“We’re saying that schools and colleges have got enough to deal with getting children back safely and making sure that education can continue, we can’t leave this to chance again.”

The government, Niamh said, made mistakes right from the start of lockdown: “One of the first decisions that the government made was to cancel the exams, and I think that was the right decision to make, but what they then failed to do was listen to the profession.

“We sat down and we followed the consultation process with Ofqual and the exam boards, we calculated an assessment grade for all of our children. Then we assessed where we thought they had progressed to, based on some mock exams, their class performance and other types of teacher assessment, which was our professional judgment.

“That’s where it should have ended but the problem that occurred was that the government doesn’t actually want young people to be getting better at their exams every year, so we have a cap which means that only a certain number of As, Bs, Cs, Ds, Es and Us can be allocated.”

To sign the NEU exam reform petition, visit neu.org.uk/assessment/fair-grade-2021.

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